Just released from a psychiatric hospital, Ricky determines to track down his favourite porn star and one-time lover Marina, with the ultimate aim of matrimony. Marina is not convinced, so Ricky imprisons her in a bid to convince her of his affections.
Indeed, one critic described itas “almost a fairytale for stalkers”, and the fact that it remains just as hard to watch today is testament to the film’s power (especially the performances).But Almodovar’s masterstroke is that he follows through with the ëkidnapping’ metaphor. Like Luis Bunuel before him, Almodovar is not afraid to experiment with ideas, and Tie Me Up! has been favourably compared to Belle De Jour, in which Catherine Deneuve plays an outwardly respectable housewife who embarks on a secret life as prostitute.
Bunuel’s film was as shocking in 1967 as Almodovar’s in 1990: both ask us to see these things, accept them at face value, then compare and contrast them with our own lives. Marina, for her part, is making the best of a bad job, and there’s a quiet dignity to her performance - even though she’s acting against a masked mutant gladiator.
The director, M·ximo Espejo (Francisco Rabal) knows it too, being a veteran whose best years are behind him. Confined to his wheelchair after a stroke, M·ximo is a gentle mentor who threatens to throw out a journalist who mentions the words “porn” and “junkie” in Marina’s presence. But then, he is in love with her, and like James Stewart’s laid-up photographer in Rear Window (Hitchcock is a major touchstone for Almodovar, also reflected here in Ennio Morricone’s wonderful Bernard Herrmann-style score), he’s impotent and reduced to a voyeur as he watches and rewinds her more intimate scenes in private.
Sadly, this was to be Almodovar’s last collaboration with Banderas, who rocketed to mainstream stardom in the US from this unlikely platform. But Almodovar consolidated his status as a challenging and bold filmmaker by forcing Americans to drop their ëzany’ preconceptions of him and see his world through his eyes. Aside from the truly dreadful Kika (1993), Tie Me Up! began an extraordinary run for the country boy-turned-counterculture hero. While maintaining the irreverent wit of a Super-8 rebel, he matured with every movie, finally winning back America’s heart with the rapturously received All About My Mother (1999), a beautiful tragic-sweet melodrama binding up bereavement, AIDS, prostitution, religion and transsexualism in one incomparable package.
This time, though, there were no complaints.And for some reason, Jane Fonda still hasn’t called 'action’ on that Women On The Verge remake. Maybe she’s since seen enough of Almodovar’s work to know there may be more to it than meets the eye.
Well-meaning but casually empty, in comparison to Almodovar's later works.
Reviewed by Damon Wise